Rugby-World Cup final matchups


Fri, 21 Oct 08:00:00 2011

Matchups for the rugby World Cup final between France and New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday:


New Zealand's front row of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks have got regular game time together throughout the tournament, something that Woodcock has said he needed after having a season ruined by a lingering foot injury.

The trio dominated the French scrum in the 37-17 victory in pool play, though Jean-Baptiste Poux is the only survivor of the French front row from that game. The vastly experienced hooker William Servat and prop Nicolas Mas add some starch after they all started together for the first time against England in the quarter-finals.

Lock Brad Thorn has proved to be the iron man of the All Blacks' forward performance. Shorter than blindside flanker Jerome Kaino he still managed to steal ball against the vaunted Australian lineout in the semi-finals. Thorn's real influence comes in the physical confrontations at the breakdown and as a scrummaging tighthead lock. Sam Whitelock has proved an able foil in the lineout, at restarts, and he is also a tireless defender.

Both Pascal Pape and Lionel Nallet are not overly tall but they win their share of ball and with two other genuine lineout options in the loose forwards, are not expected to dominate the lineout like other locks in world rugby.

Both are strong scrumaggers and their physical presence will be needed in the breakdown. Neither are overly rangy which the All Blacks may try to exploit by moving them around the field and around the fringes with quick ball -- as was evident when Pape missed a tackle on Wales scrumhalf Mike Phillips that led to the only try in their semi-final.


France have finally settled on their loose forward trio, which while world class does not have an out and out openside flanker or a damaging ball runner capable of blowing through the first line of defence.

Imanol Harinordoquy and Julien Bonnaire are dangerous lineout options while Thierry Dusautoir marshals the defence and, as he demonstrated with a reported 38 tackles in the 2007 quarter-final, will smash anyone wearing black on Sunday.

New Zealand's trio look more balanced with captain Richie McCaw the fetcher, Kieran Read the ball runner and Jerome Kaino the defensive specialist, though all three are more than willing and as damaging in all aspects.

Kaino has finally matured into an all-round player after succeeding Jerry Collins on the blindside of the scrum, and has played every minute of the All Blacks' World Cup, save for when he was subbed off in the 80th minute of the semi-final. His performances have resulted in his nomination for the International Rugby Board's player of the year award.


The loss of backline pivot Daniel Carter was considered one of the worst things that could have happened to New Zealand's chances of winning the World Cup, though Weepu has stepped up to fill the void. The scrumhalf's performance against Argentina in the quarter-final was one of his best in the All Blacks' jersey.

Aaron Cruden, a late replacement for Carter, settled any nerves the New Zealand public had with a composed performance against Australia in the semi-final. A naturally gifted player whose first, second, and third instinct was to run the flyhalf has developed a sound and more lengthy tactical kicking game after being told to work on it by coach Wayne Smith.

Critics were dumbfounded when Marc Lievremont moved scrumhalf Morgan Parra out to flyhalf to pair him with Dimitri Yachvili, though the pairing has worked with Parra proving to be an outstanding pivot despite his preference to be back closer to the scrum.

Yachvili has taken control of his forwards marshalling them on attack and defence and his box kicking has been mostly pinpoint throughout the tournament. Parra has also found the confidence to take on the defensive line with his running and is also an astute tactical kicker. Both are also superb goalkickers with Parra over 90 percent for the tournament.


Inside centre Ma'a Nonu has been one of the players of the tournament, constantly threatening opposition defences and giving his forwards a midfield target beyond the advantage line. He destroyed opposite Maxime Mermoz in pool phase, brushing away the Perpignan youngster seemingly at will.

Centre Conrad Smith has had a quiet tournament on attack though the fact the All Blacks back three players have scored numerous tries shows how much work he and Nonu are doing to put them into space. Highly intelligent, the qualified lawyer organises the backline defence and rarely misses a tackle, preferring instead to go low and leave the more flashy big hits to others.

Aurelien Rougerie entered the tournament with a massive reputation but has failed to really stamp his authority on any of France's matches. He was shunted out to the wing, where he captained the side, for France's victory over Canada though appeared disinterested, while in the loss to Tonga his involvement was restricted to tackling Siale Piutau.

Mermoz scored a try against the All Blacks when he intercepted the ball from a wayward Carter pass, though he will need to be better organised in defence to stop Nonu and explosive winger Richard Kahui coming in off the blindside to try to punch holes in midfield.


New Zealand fullback Israel Dagg has been one of the finds of the tournament, ghosting through defences with blistering pace and superb balance and footwork, which has led to five tries. Richard Kahui, originally selected as a centre, moved out to wing to give the All Blacks more of a physical presence on the flanks and will be a handful for France to contain as he looks to add to his tally of four tries.

Cory Jane, who was only named as a member of the extended squad to cover for injuries during the Tri-Nations, has turned his season around with some superb performances and impressive workrate. Immensely strong for someone of his size, often fending off forwards lining him up to drive him into touch, he has an ability to set up others with a deft kicking and passing game and is safe under the high ball, outjumping players several centimetres taller than him.

Vincent Clerc was already one of the more dangerous finishers in world rugby and has notched up six tries to be the tournament's joint leading try scorer with England's Chris Ashton and has said is looking to add to that tally against the All Blacks.

Fullback Maxime Medard, who spent most of the semi-final chasing his own kicks, is far more dangerous an attacker than he has shown in the tournament so far, with his try in the quarter-final against England giving a hint of the power and footwork he has to break tackles.

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